“It is a time for tons of verbiage, activity, consumption.” —Mark Rothko
The end of the year is coming, again.
Will you claim you are satisfied,
so far? How will you commit
to these remaining days? In this interlude,
what to cherish, what to improvise,
what to root, and what to let go?
I am still learning to pretend
the difference between memories
of a past gone and memories of a past unknown.
A loop on its return becomes a harbinger
of sentient evidence, now personal phenomenology.
It’s best to surrender to messianic joy
at this horizon point in a vanishing year.
Update your maps of what remains of your calls
to provisional responses. Name your beloveds.
There’s still time for passionate cadence and
appreciation of light’s lengthened silhouettes.
That space, that pause, is an insider’s point of view.
These longings pull from long-shadow days and nights.
Return, again, repeat. That kind of essential
permanence, palpable. Cross reference your embodied index,
then become a territory beyond meaning.
Enable new, interpretive beginnings. I flicker—an epic
verse. Your alterity is my resonance. Ride with me.
Based on rumors of math, scientists believe if they move Jupiter’s orbit the Earth will be “more habitable”. I have the same foolish desire when capturing moving light by using future perfect verbs and modified nouns.
What might be translated from the way light sounds after saturating iridescent city pigeon feathers? I think light and time become sacred geometry. Ordinary as questions ruptured clever and bright.
Your majesty is now gender neutral. Please comply. Receptivity remains bearded as you wait for affirmation. That you found lack of detail a form of stillness means I can trust you to keep secrets. Plumb that male gaze.
What are children learning to feel in this newborn century?
“Die knowing something. You are not here long.” —Walker Evans
I don’t want to complain. It’s the morning light, bright and orange, that is angry.
Do not read this as a confession but more guided by the belief: a month of Sundays.
It may be true; I have a furious wish to rearrange time. This is not a mare’s nest but more deceptively a half-full moon. Breaking has an edge when the loudest crowd is guided
by psychopomps muted mouthing and demented. Sound waves are dependent upon temperature to carry their messages too. I’m learning town names and their geography
by following wildfires. Not quite pastime, like writing, but more gradual like buried cities now exposed. Reminders that it is the slanting light who is sharing this memory.
Blue fading pink light transitions the sun’s nightly disappearance as a star.
Earlier the concentrated sunlight, setting late, hit a distant window—
just right. The bright reflection took shape of an ordinary reminder.
A reminder that temporal sequence as closure is felt, a sense.
What if we are actually expanding instead of contracting?
Hours as measured by:
clouds slipping by
street pigeon’s stuttered coos
gossip economy news cycles
a flock of geese in V formation
rivers carving out gorges
Can we claim survival as the measured depth of a body of water?
An ending does not always need to follow a chain of events.
Duality alters thresholds, choices, interpretation.
These ongoing attempts become accumulations, layers,
a structure of ongoing being. There’s worship and fetish.
A complete world.
“Reading criticism clogs conduits through which one gets new ideas: cultural cholesterol.” —Susan Sontag, 1964 journal entry
A handful of ranunculus, yellow, swell open.
Morning showers pass through. I make a wish
when the sun breaks free from its shroud.
A temporary proscenium of light forms. I see
motes and ghosts in gestured choreography.
A possessed experience of gods or a trip
of light god-shaped? In rapid succession,
I am mouth-to-mouth lucidity. I breach a crown
of paper tigers. Inside this current occupation,
I surrender in ecstatic objection to a language,
blue, that takes from lust and sells back violence.
Digitally speaking, I’ve trained myself to feel distracted.
I’m occupied. As numbed witness, in muted sound and fury,
today’s testimony dissolves into lyrical indirection.
Sharp, warm shadows of morning light strike a blooming spring.
From formalized fragilities of fear, from the perceived aggressor
in endless wars, or from slants of perimenopausal sales pitches
as rumor and pre-emptive threats, it’s all terrifying.
My daily diversions upsold. Propaganda is climax!
The psyops of weak kings is an advanced state of dissolution.
I imagine a moment that lasts so long everyone craves
its optimized chorus—it has been like this forever.
This is the loop, an exquisite incantation, that never deviates.
“The Waste Land: III. The Fire Sermon”, T. S. Eliot, 1922
Denying greed’s influence on our myths
means we are buried in tragedy.
Obsession of scale has left us wading
in the sheer depravity of accurate detail.
All the morning newspapers land on the same headline.
Near future is the sound of a volcano exploding
five thousand miles away. Ripe tomatoes hang on the vine.
Children swing in the blue fading black darkness.
A list, after all, is an incantation.
—Lia Purpura, from the essay “Sugar Eggs: A Reverie”
I almost paid attention every day this just past year. There might not be an instant memory to pull from but I remember:
new pages filled: creating a full, whole life
days moving with the sun
nothing urgent getting done anytime soon
a chain of days: learning
23 February, Tuesday, 2021 — we reached that unimaginable 500,000 deaths yesterday
By April, languishing was declared 2021’s dominant emotion. The experts were specific—we are languishing, a residual and continuously active tense.
But we are extraordinary now, more so than the before-times. Those of us who survived have an understanding, a swallow of temporary obedience, having squeezed through another dimension. In the same way Cliff Swallows, federally protected migratory songbirds, continue to build their nests on overvalued condos built on top of their well-known migration paths, we can claim we too are still living.
What’s next will be found in the ordinary, beyond the cleaved repetition.
“How innocently life ate the days.” —John Updike, Couples
All day long, she sits behind windows
watching swollen ancient clouds
echo along abraded front lines.
She traces their carved patterns
and records distorted stillness.
Parting seductive, the bruised grey sky
swarms off to her west and opens wide.
Some might say she’s damned
but that’s a different parable
for a different time. Today,
she’s thinking about sanctity of attention.
Relationally vast in its deviant transience,
she listens to sovereign urgent voices
like well-fingered coins tossed into wishing wells.
This form of anticipation reclusive and incessant,
unyielding as the agency of water.
An observant song now broadcast as western light.
“What happens when you reposition agency away from power?” —Ocean Vuong, episode 227 of Talk Easy with Sam Fragoso
I’m writing this down
as proof of memory.
The sky is almost always
a solid backlit blue
unless it isn’t.
A specificity shared
by anyone who lives beneath it.
Not unlike knowing poppies don’t unfold
until midmorning and being aware, now,
how summer here blooms—
if you’re paying attention.
Gradients of time punctuate
while light cascades unnoticed.
In other words, there’s devotion
and there’s feral experience.
Beneath a gray sky, backlit bright,
the persimmon tree is full of leaves
as if it hadn’t just been naked for months.
If you find an orange
on the sidewalk,
one solitary orange,
what kind of luck is that?
In Olivia Laing’s opening essay in Funny Weather, “You Look at the Sun”, she references Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s concept of a paranoid reader. “A paranoid reader is concerned with gathering information, tracing links and making the hidden visible. They anticipate and are perennially defended against disaster, catastrophe, disappointment. They are always on the lookout for danger, about which they can never, ever know enough.”
Distilled: “to prove what we already feared we knew”.
I fingered the begging-for-it jade trees.
As the flowers slept,
still curled tight,
the sun floated above me
already round and bright.
Abstract as repentance or glory—a transitory representation—is the distinct learning from unknowing, an experience of active living. A day of rituals, smooth from habit, bloom into conscious discipline. Nothing less than a lived response will do in these warped times.
Another week soft as cat paws sneaks past me. The sounds of the radiator and freeway now so familiar, I consider the silence around the noise. Maybe this form, an oblivious infinite loop, finds function waiting like the persimmons? Or maybe this release continues to demand merging threads fleeting as sunlight passing through morning clouds. It’s just as possible all that happens is that I learn to love myself a little more.
this whole time
I’ve been writing my future?
Loving feels lovely in a violent world,
—first line in “Community”, Marge Piercy
I relished pleasures of the mind and the flesh equally.
—Marge Piercy, Sleeping with Cats
mind that gap
somebody must know
the biochemical difference
between fear and excitement
trees with new leaves
look fresh next to those
who keep their looks all year round
same view, thoughts recycled
40 more hours squeezed
into future dollars
performing “ordinary life”
(overheard on morning NPR)
all of this so-called-living
to be cherished
“I find it easy to admire in trees what depresses me in people.”
— Marge Piercy, last two lines of “The Doughty Oaks” from The Moon Is Always Female
Spring finds us haunted. A seasonal feeling after witnessing winter’s passing, but it’s acute this year. Blue skies expanding. Nests of birds explode in sound. Time is the fulcrum. I love you fills the past, present, future. Now weightless, light cracks through early morning clouds. I thought about the scam of resurrection. Some never fully accept death as loss, permanence unchanged. They believe death can be cheated. The obvious irony is you’ll suffer from wanting what is not possible. Time is the fulcrum. Flexing, palming, sucking off temporal attention.
Through the eyes of a non-believer, the sharpened edge of dilution, I miss you.
I am not writing a history of these times or of past times or of any future times and not even the history of these visions which are with me all day and all of the night.
— Anne Boyer, “Not Writing“
You asked me if I had responded to the response.
I thought about those high school boys from Tennessee
bragging about their football conquests in the Mariott hot tub.
They were beautiful, hard like toy guns
full of manufactured bravado.
Again, you asked me if I had responded.
I remember witnessing a new moon’s illumination.
A simple and ordinary texture of perceptual darkness
worn resilient and smooth as a natural pearl.
You asked me when I will respond.
I answered with a question wound around reactive
need, a homegrown suspicion. Where, in my body,
won’t I respond based on all this surveillance?
People don’t notice whether it’s winter or summer when they’re happy.
Anton Chekhov, The Three Sisters
The new year feels rushed,
already flush with grievances.
Obscurant clouds glide smooth
as lies repeat until slick with intent.
The news claims we are living
through revolutionary times.
Remember, there is no trophy for second place.
Record the collapse as memories as silence
fills the jagged edges. I close my eyes and rotate
the plants toward the light. The sun is eager to begin.
Birds have started to sing.
Keep busy with survival. Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long, not even pain, psychic pain. Sit it out.
Let it all pass. Let it go.
— May Sarton, from Volume One: Journal of a Solitude (Norton, 1977)
As evening’s frantic pink light slips into a lavender twilight hour,
gravity continues to hold us in place like constellations.
We string and loop lights around the apartment to project
hope’s fractal reflections everywhere. Yes, we really do
have to keep going and salvage tomorrow’s fragile glittering promises.
Predictions of our survival will be found in the how of our doing.
When oranges begin to ripe on the West Coast, that’s the signal
to gather for the next new beginning. Heed tradition’s clairvoyance
and pull on the shiniest threads to prepare for a better future. Pop! Fizz!
Incite! Even in the expanding darkness, prophetic renewals
of mutual liberation trend as lack rages on. Hope brings so much to want,
manufactured and genuine, next year no longer waits.
“But I wanted never to adjust my explorations to the anticipated expectations of others. Writing was enjoyable for the reverberation I got out of it, and the reverberation had to be discovered, not planned. — William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life
Were you raised in redemption?
You’ll likely recognize its siren
as a concept—a never-ending story—
a seductive and subjectively
generous way to live one’s life.
Were you born with a shy body?
There’s love there,
you just have to be patient.
Have you learned
fucks with stasis? See also:
acceptance, risk, glory, grief,
and madness. Winter light
breaks through in layers,
kernels of stimulation.
Atonement becomes a paradigm;
it is a grind to keep believing.
Maybe it’s time to examine
your one dramatic life
when inertia is salvation
in an authoritarian state.
Are you ready to receive?
“the war that matters is the war against the imagination all other wars are subsumed in it” —Diane di Prima
I’ve heard the future is worth fighting for.
Some ask, why now? Because of mob rules.
Declare your victory early so it counts
but I’ll decide how I respond from here.
Flattened into identity, winter light
reveals new shadows. Call it a gut feeling.
Only pre-show sportscasters and polling pundits
are wrong more than contemporary weather forecasts.
Handsome margins sell like gospel. Premeditated
as a salt lick, a new frontline is mass produced.
I’ve heard this before. This fear. This opportunity.
This emergence and its process of revelation.
As these days plow forward, I promise
to peel a thousand oranges for you.
And always I wanted the “I.” Many of the poems are “I did this. I did this. I saw this.” I wanted the “I” to be the possible reader, rather than about myself. It was about an experience that happened to be mine but could well have been anybody else’s. That was my feeling about the “I.” I have been criticized by one editor who felt that “I” would be felt as ego. And I thought, no, well, I’m going to risk it and see. And I think it worked. It enjoined the reader into the experience of the poem. (emphasis mine)
and later stated “there is no nothingness” I found an edge of where I had been wandering disassociated these tangled smoky days.
I, too, posted a flurry of orangered sky photos on Wednesday, a sky Australia experienced during their “Black Summer” the final months of last year. I did not want to believe what was in front of me—what was real and happening.
I am, now, acutely conscious of feeling triggered by the mere recognition, now a pattern, of that very specific hue of red and orange mixed with smoke and sunlight. When that extraordinary color and any adjacent approximation catches my scrolling eye and peripheral sense of self, I am physically reminded how saturated a lived experience can be.
During World War II, we bought sealed plastic packets of white, uncolored margarine, with a tiny, intense pellet of yellow coloring perched like a topaz just inside the clear skin of the bag. We would leave the margarine out for a while to soften, and then we would pinch the little pellet to break it inside the bag, releasing the rich yellowness into the soft pale mass of margarine. Then taking it carefully between our fingers, we would knead it gently back and forth, over and over, until the color had spread throughout the whole pound bag of margarine, thoroughly coloring it.
As these days surge on sensory overload, I am suspicious of receiving and having to interpret new information like “unhealthy” versus “very unhealthy” air. I understand how conspiracies comfort the masses by creating gaps in perception. I surrender thoroughly (to borrow from Lorde), when I realize all of this—this living, this breathing, this give and take—is a radical synopsis of cognition, dear possible reader.
“Some days in late August at home are like this,
the air thin and eager like this, with something in it sad and nostalgic and familiar…”
— William Faulkner from The Sound and the Fury
Its salience starts inside you —
an intersection, a portal, a punch.
Greed is an expression of fear,
that kind of penetration measured
by depth, loss contextualized.
A landscape of insatiable memories
bordered by anodyne forgiveness
and tectonic imperfections.
Take comfort in knowing
plants turn light into sugar.
Tell me what you notice, and why.
I want to cross reference
my slanted smoky sunlight
with your details to create
time stamps, a rescue map
dispersed into winks of blue.
The rhythm of an endless human-centered conversation.
To feel the space between our next collective breath.
The sky split in half with the trail of an early flight.
Orange morning light, a long exhale, and the sound
of pencil on paper filling a page. I appreciate
clouds temporary status and apply that truth
to my own temporary life.
I want to find a way to open
from the inside,
safely and slowly,
with pleasure and wonder.
Put your weapons down.
The sky is the same as yesterday: blue and uninterrupted.
“I pray in words. I pray in poems. I want to learn to pray through breathing, through dreams and sleeplessness, through love and renunciation.” — Anna Kamienska, from “In That Great River: A Notebook” (tr. Clare Cavanagh)
There is anger, again.
It is a fear of waste.
There is nothing left
to do but wake up,
make coffee, write.
Salt, a mineral.
Soft truths with edges.
It is also true we lived in temporary houses.
No one was home so we self-supervised.
Neglect and despair kept us full.
Competition thrived. Like ocean waves,
we conformed to the landscape
beneath a rough water’s surface.
I remember when the city air smelled like summer,
longing and loss. Trees were shaped
by ocean breezes, bald on the west side.
Country twang bled past Mission bar doors opened early.
That moment, its energy, left an imprint.
like the breath
just beneath this prayer.
“but i am running into a new year and i beg what i love and i leave to forgive me”
— Lucille Clifton, from I am Running Into a New Year
Always, an airplane in the sky. Our big, beautiful world is dying. We string colored lights in windows. This time of year requires letting go of what cannot be undone. The freeway flows forward, always. Birds sing in tune with worn out brakes of city buses. Today I will laugh. Where does the grotesque fall away and where is the real? Knees. Ribs. Pelvis. Hips a spacial reference to another’s manipulation. My body woke me in the middle of the night. I wasn’t sure if it was fair to tell you this truth. I disassociate enough to protect my sensibilities and made myself small to accommodate your vision of a world that owed you. I kept my mouth shut for fear of casting a shadow on your carefully carved out spotlight. I need new vocabulary to describe this headstrong ritual. Joy and excitement is replicable but they won’t be to scale. Yesterday I watched a woman kiss pigeons. Gently and respectfully, she kissed the bravest on their greedy beaks. In a sea of bread crumbs and feathers, she shared her love with those who surrounded her. Come back into it. My body won’t relax. I pick up the slack. Evening’s receiving light follows me home.
Opposites are abstract concepts belonging to the realm of thought, and as such they are relative. By the very act of focusing our attention on any one concept we create its opposite. … Since all opposites are interdependent, their conflict can never result in the total victory of one side, but will always be a manifestation of the interplay between the two sides. — The Tao of Physics
her dreams were filled with spooked horses and rabid wolves
allegories of courage or danger or obsession
shallow interpretations, her repressed energies a spark
threads of eternal poems with narrow slanted voices
waking, she stuck pins in her eyes to filter in more light
Do me a favor this morning. Draw the curtain and come
back to bed.
Forget the coffee. We’ll pretend
we’re in a foreign country, and in love.
Raymond Carver, last stanza of “The Road”
There’s an urgency when you wake up in darkness. Instinct tells you to trust that light is coming. The sky opened a hazy lilac. Morning shadows sharpen. I’ve misinterpreted the danger inherent in matter cannot be created nor destroyed. Navigating productions, stilted formations misunderstood as lyrical responses, becomes a performance. Often, soothing a distraction.
I learned early that soft touches were to be saved for moving someone to confession, then towards salvation. For all those end-of-days Sunday warnings, I am not prepared. This is a special kind of denial, an abject version of faith.
“We should have known” has signaled subtle shaming. Didn’t you hear all those rumors?
The moon is new. At the moment, there is no wind. My body remembers this fear. My sense of distance expands in the pink layered light.
I’ve kept this on the tip of my tongue, at the rim of my mouth, inside my lungs sweet like a curated secret. I tried to write around the noise but this is the silence that found me.
Who will touch me in the middle of this war. — Zaina Alsous, from “On Longing,” A Theory of Birds: Poems
in the darkness, I whisper red sky at night
this ancient prayer breaks
its positive predictive power
when the sun rose red, again
highly sensitive weather machines
translate falling ash as snow and rain
smoke spreads heavy in the amber colored night
in the darkness, I whisper red sky at night
But where I come from withdrawal is easy to forgive. — William Stafford
She said she loved me.
She loved me.
became an anthem,
a melodic hook.
Stacked like clouds
ready for a fight
bent over or
how horizons form.
Don’t believe me?
Study the moon
and sun’s partnership.
A story of graceful friction.
Literally magnificent light
now wild from abandon.